Students from several specialty programs offered at Cleveland’s high schools came together Friday evening for the unveiling of East Technical High School’s new state-of-the-art facilities for the culinary program’s student-run restaurant, the Executive Grille.
The artwork decorating the restaurant walls was created by students from Cleveland School for the Arts, who spent hours with culinary students at the old Executive Grille at Jane Addams High School to understand the craft and find inspiration for their work.
Students from East Tech’s Urban Agriculture, Horticulture, and Animal Science programs contribute to the Executive Grille’s operations. Student-grown herbs and vegetables are used in the salad bar and in dishes on the menu. Students, staff and the public can purchase made-from-scratch dog biscuits at the restaurant’s cafe. Even the tables are decorated with flower arrangements designed and made by students.
But at the center of it all on Friday were the culinary students, who excitedly showed off their freshly cooked dishes and demonstrated industrial-grade mixers. Students wearing their aprons and chef hats ran the whole operation, from serving drinks at the cafe counter to operating the pizza ovens.
The restaurant existed in an earlier form at Jane Addams High School, where the district’s culinary program was based for years, but the school was closed in 2021 and students were moved to East Tech.
The culinary students needed a new home, and so, during the transition, the board voted to use district funds to turn East Tech’s unused pool area into a new kitchen and restaurant.
The new facilities include a computer lab, a demo kitchen with a camera system so lessons can be live-streamed, locker rooms, a pastry arts kitchen and a full restaurant kitchen.
“It’s a dream come true for our students and staff,” said the restaurant’s head chef, Michael Szalkowski.
The culinary students are led by Chef Szalkowski, who is the longtime chief instructor of the career-tech program. He has been with CMSD for 23 years. Standing alongside Szalkowski was Chef Jonathan Gardner, a former student of Szalkowski’s who attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York after graduating from CMSD.
Gardner spoke about how much his relationship with Szalkowski has meant to him. Szalkowski mentored him throughout his time at the Culinary Institute, and the two would speak on the phone when Gardner had questions about cooking. Now they work alongside each other. The office door at the new facilities lists their names side by side.
“When we work together, we work hard, we joke, laugh, we argue, but we have a good time and make great food. We balance each other perfectly like Yin and Yang,” Gardner said.
In the demo kitchens behind the restaurant’s main kitchen, two eleventh-grade students, Joe and Wayne, demonstrated the steps of cooking shrimp scampi – an elaborate process involving open flame. Wayne told guests that he eventually wants to become an electrician, but that he also loves cooking. A fellow classmate joked that he could run the electrical system of a restaurant and still be a part of the action.
The students said they love the program because it’s hands-on, not just sitting in a classroom.
Students in the career-tech program also run a food truck, called Executive Grille On The Go, out of a converted yellow school bus. They go to various festivals and events around the city year-round, though more often in the summer.
Want to eat?
You can find the restaurant’s menu and learn more about the program on CMSD’s website.
The restaurant will have a public grand opening event on Wednesday, Feb. 15, from 11 am to 1:30 pm. Please call for reservations: 216-838-CHEF.